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An Automotive Conference about the Future
EVs! Autonomous Vehicles! New forms of Propulsion! New Forms of Clean Energy and Storage! Mobility! Artificial Intelligence! Microprocessors! Redefining the Automobile! The Coming End of ICE Vehicles! All of these topics were covered at a recent conference.
I was recently honored to be the keynote speaker at one of the premier automotive conferences in the world. The NAIPC conference in the last week of September had some 250 of the top engineering executives of the global automotive industry in attendance. SAE International puts on this annual event and it was clear that this conference is one that attracts top-tier executives from the car companies [OEMs], suppliers, governments and research companies.
This was one of the rare conferences I have had the good fortune to address that was fully committed to Chatham House Rules . This means that while it is okay to comment on the topics covered, it is not allowed to quote individuals in any way. What this does is to create openness and collaborative discussions. Think about it, the OEMs in the room – GM, Ford, Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, Mazda, Isuzu, Stellantis [Chrysler, Fiat, Citroen, Peugeot, Jeep among others], Subaru - are all competing against one another in the global sales arena. How can they share information, data and strategies unless there is some level of open and private space? To move the collective industries forward, openness and sharing was, is, and will be key.
This means that I cannot reveal comments made by individuals unless I get their permission to share. I have several fascinating PowerPoints given to me by presenters and panelists, which will allow me to share some cool concepts and visions with subscribers in this and future columns. As many asked for and received my presentation, we can all share what has been given to us.
As a futurist, I focus on the big picture, the high-level concepts, and the over-arching trends that are and will shape our future. In three columns, written early this year in Evolutionshift, I have written about the future of EVs and Autonomous Vehicles, here, here and here.
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After the conference, my thinking relative to these columns has changed a little. My big picture, long-term view of the future of the automobile has been slightly altered, but my appreciation of the magnitude of the effort is much greater. Engineers by nature, are problem solvers. The entire conference was largely about the problems of getting from here to “there” in a short period of time. I was made aware of the fact that the global automotive industry will be investing close to a trillion dollars in the next few years to bring about this transformation. That is a lot of money to be invested in a brand-new market that will largely be dictated by government policies. Due to this fact, there was keen interest in the presentations from the EPA and the Department of Transportation regarding future policies. These governmental presentations did nothing to allay the concerns of those in the audience.
All in the room seemed to be quite happy with how much the Biden Administration has come down on the side of the electrification of the auto industry, facing the climate crisis and new forms of clean energy and storage. At the same time, most in the room spoke about how reliant ultimate industry success will be on who is in power and what policies national governments will embrace.
An example of this was the one forecast I made at the start of the conference that most took issue with over the two days. I forecast that 70% of the units sold in the US in 2030 would be EVs or Autonomous Vehicles. The consensus in the room was more in the 30-50% range. Several people told me that if Trump or some Republican became President, those numbers could drop to 15-25% [Of course, this is due to the fact that climate deniers seem to be Republican – Trump has called it a hoax- and are largely in favor of the carbon combustion complex.]
Think about that. The industry is about to collectively invest a trillion dollars over the next few years to launch a complete transformation of a major business sector that is reliant, to a significant degree, on who gets elected in 2024 and 2028. Stunning! That is why there was audience disappointment with the government officials who both lauded the wisdom in the room but refused to commit to long-term policy support beyond 2024. This is one of the reasons that the Chinese market for EVs is the number one market in the world. All the EV companies know that the Chinese government is fully behind the electrification of personal transport.
Why do I think my forecast of 70% of all units sold in 2030 will be right as opposed to most in the room?
First, the conference was full of engineers. Engineers see problems. They solve problems. They see the transition from ICE to EV as problematic. I see it as inevitable. The direction is clear. Most of the automobiles on the road in 2035 will be EVs, if not sooner. The only true questions are how and when.
Second, only a few people at the conference were from marketing. During my keynote, I asked the audience to raise their hands if they had the word marketing in their title. Only a few raised their hands. The point is that no new technology or product can truly make it without marketing. Marketing helps create memes. Memes create marketing. Memes penetrate consciousness. Think of the iPod, the iPhone, the flatscreen TV, the laptop, the tablet. All moved to market saturation due to marketing, awareness, and consumer desire to have, to own, to show off the next big thing.
Think back to the 1950s, often thought of as the “Age of Detroit”, when planned obsolescence ruled. Tail-fins., two-toned color schemes. What did TV shows tell us to do? “See the USA, in your Chevrolet, America’s the greatest land of all” What did popular music do? Songs about the car culture. “Little Ol’ Lady from Pasadena” “409” “Deadman's Curve” “Hot-rod Lincoln”. America was a freedom-loving car culture country in the 1950s and 1960s because it was embedded in the culture. We still love cars. So the point is that when marketing kicks in, when the culture embraces EVs and, ultimately, Autonomous Vehicles, sales will take off far more quickly.
As I said in one of the linked columns at the top, the hockey stick of EV sales will start in 2025.
More on this incredible conference in some future columns.